Windows grabs a huge deal of attention, of course – and Windows 10 has been generating a predictable media storm, particularly since this is a vital operating system to get right for Redmond given the failure of Windows 8. However, let’s not forget that Microsoft has another major cash cow, Office, which has been gradually transformed from a Windows-centric productivity suite of five core products into a vibrant ecosystem of applications.
In Microsoft’s own words, this time around, the company has reimagined the traditional Office experience for a mobile-first, cloud-first world – one where Office 2016 is expected to play an increasingly lesser role compared to Office 365.
Cut to the chase
What is it? It is the new version of Office, the first one that is designed and built from the ground-up for mobile and cloud.
When will it release? We fully expect Office 2016 to launch in October 2015, at the same time as Windows 10 in what could well be Microsoft’s biggest launch ever.
What will it cost? The suite will be free for consumers on mobile devices and smaller tablets (with limitations, mind you), and probably as cheap as £95 (around $145, AU$185) for a likely “Office Home & Student 2016” edition, though the RRP of the 2013 version of this flavour is £110 (around $165, AU$215), with the subscription version of the suite (Office 365 Personal) running to £60 (around $90, AU$120) per year.
What’s the latest ?
Office 2016 (which is coincidentally the 16th iteration of the suite) will be launched in the second half of 2015 according to Julia White, the general manager for Microsoft Office, and it will likely arrive in October alongside Windows 10.
It will still be best suited to a PC with a keyboard and mouse, a setup that Microsoft seems to believe is the best way to achieve optimal productivity.
Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore has previously shown off touch and mobile optimised versions of Word and PowerPoint on Windows 10, both of them on Lumia smartphones and part of a new offering called “Office for Windows 10” (see the above and below video clips).
More recently, Microsoft further teased these apps at Mobile World Congress, showing off some changes in the aesthetics department, with Excel benefiting from a considerable makeover, and additions including snap functions and smart scrolling to make tapping in your spreadsheet data an easier process. A new Insights feature will seamlessly bring web references and definitions (powered by Bing) to your Microsoft Word reading experience, too.
Office for Windows 10 will be released in two flavours; one for smaller 8-inch or less tablets and smartphones, and the other for larger tablets, hybrids with touchscreens and the like.
We’ve reached out to Microsoft to get more clarity on exactly what the deal is with these apps, including pricing – it seems licensing fees will apply for business usage, though it’s not exactly clear how that will work at this point (and while consumers will get free access on smaller devices, it will be with caveats and no advanced features – a familiar enough story). Stay tuned for an update on all this shortly.
Pictures of how Office 2016 might look like surfaced back in September of last year showing a dark/black colour scheme, and a new “tell me” help feature. The latter is already available for Office Online and Office for iPad, and offers a help assistant to guide you through how to perform various tasks (and it’s likely to be less intrusive than the oft-criticised Clippy, you’ll be pleased to hear).
Rumours suggest that Microsoft will add automatic image rotation to Office apps, to help with the positioning of pictures in your documents, as well as additional sync options for its Outlook email client.
It’s worth bearing in mind that InfoPath (the electronic form designing and filling software) will be dropped from Office when the next version of the suite emerges, though Microsoft says it will continue support for InfoPath Forms Services through to 2016.
Microsoft has also revealed that a new version of the suite is coming to the Mac, finally, after Mac users have been left with the 2011 edition for the last half decade. Office for Mac has witnessed the introduction of a range of new features designed for Apple’s computers, including full support for Retina Displays, plus the user interface has been overhauled and brought up to date as was badly needed, boasting a refreshed task pane among many other tweaks.
Other than that, thus far Microsoft is keeping pretty tight lipped about what will actually be in Office 2016, but is promising that “compelling new experiences” will be part of the new suite, and yet it will remain the “comprehensive Office experience you’re long familiar with”.
Microsoft’s default choice for Office is the subscription model, which is the company’s preferred method of delivery and currently maintains 24 different SKUs (stock keeping units) spread between home, education, enterprise, government and non-profit.
The company currently has between 9 and 10 million Office 365 Personal and Home users (and more than 50 million Office Online users), a tiny fraction of the estimated total 1.2 billion Office users that have deployed the productivity suite.
Getting the preview version
If you’re interested in previewing Office 2016, you can head over to Microsoft’s Connect site and sign up. The sign-up process asks you to enter the email where you’d like to receive an invitation to participate in the beta, but as Foley confirmed earlier, any email address will work. Just remember that what you’re seeing and testing is under NDA.
After entering your email address, you’ll be able to download the necessary bits to install the preview on your system.
As for Mac users, there’s a preview version available for you as well. If you want to have a gander at the next incarnation of Office for OS X, you can grab the Office for Mac Preview here.
Expect to learn more about Office 2016 at the Microsoft Ignite conference which kicks off on May 4 in Chicago.